“I gave the documents to Candace and she told me that….” I sat in my chair looking at the back of my co-worker’s head while she told another co-worker the details of a job that I did.
If you were in the room with us, you may have thought, “Well Candace, why would you feel so offended? It’s not like she is talking about you behind your back. She was in front of you after all.”
I wasn’t trying to hold in my rage. Rather, I took the course of passive-aggressiveness, but without the aggressiveness. I didn’t know whether to speak up or shut up, because the first thought in my mind was to run away from being branded as another paranoid Black person. But this was a case of mistaken identity — the co-worker who seemed quick to pin me with last night’s mail count responsibility turned to me and quickly realized that I was Candace and not Angela.*
I’m 5’10, slim, with shoulder-length black hair and brown eyes. I also happen to be a Black West Indian female with the need to watch “Pretty Little Liars” in real time. Do I really look like every Black female that you’ve ever come across?
Angela and I look nothing alike. She is slightly shorter than I am (5’7-5’8), a bit skinnier than I am, and we could not sound any more different on the phone. Yet every day, instead of using the manners that I assume their parents taught them, I am approached with a “Hi… Angela right?”, with my desk name tag right in front of them, or “Thanks Ange- I mean Candace, I’m sorry!”, peppered with an awkward giggle, or “I gave the documents to Candace and she told me that”, when the documents were really given to Angela instead.
I’ve been a victim of mistaken racial identity before. At that time, it was when I was more naïve, but not naïve enough to know about the underhand nature of undercover racism in a post-racial society.
During my junior prom I was surprised by Todd. Todd was a boy in my class who I barely said two words to, and vice versa. Yet, he saw the back of me and lightly grabbed my arm only to realize that I was not his date as I turned around. He didn’t even say sorry! He just mumbled an “Oh, I’m…” and without a “sorry” to follow, went looking for his true date, who was only two feet away from him.
Dude, how did you not know what your date looked like?! We were both tall and Black, but that was it! Different hair, different skin tone, different ways of walking and talking, and different color and type of prom dress… those visual factors never tipped him off?
Years away from my junior prom, I am still dealing with being recognized as the other Black person in the room. It’s as though I never left college, where my Latina and Afro-Caribbean roommates and I would have heart-to-heart conversations about boys, music, class projects, and racism. I remember during those four years I became conscious of how everyone, Asian, Black, White, African, Indian, Jewish, Christian, etc. interacted with one another on campus.
I remember during my freshman year seeing a medium-sized group of White females walking towards the library all wearing the exact same Juicy Couture outfits and Tiffany bracelets, as I ironically felt insecure in my anonymity. I wondered how my non-Black peers might have thought about my friends and me as we walked among them. Were they even able to tell us apart, with our varying features and fashion sense? At least, there was a roll call in some of my college classes to help all of us distinguish ourselves from one another. Maybe there needs to be a daily roll call at work across the nation, because name tags are only for special occasions.
So, what do I do when faced with such disregard for remembering me? I just politely repeat my name, over and over again. It’s sad that I don’t expect anyone within a working environment to say “Hi! My name is so-and-so. What’s yours?” when they meet me for the first time. The unraveling of social mores and etiquette, which I have observed long before Twitter and Facebook arrived, has caused a sort of “know-it-all” disease. I don’t know if this disease started before the Britney Spears “Oops I Did It Again” era or within the early ‘aughts’.
But I do know that I’ve become a victim of it, having to remind others that I am not the other Black girl in the office who looks and sounds nothing like me. Don’t even get me started on my having to defend the spelling of my name, because my attention remains occupied from picking up after others’ rational laziness.
If you find yourself with some free time to mingle at work, or in a social situation, like your ten year high school reunion, show some compassion and get to know the person next to you, past their skin color. Ask them their name repeatedly until you have it memorized. Don’t worry about sounding like a scatterbrained chump. If you see a name tag on or near someone, look at it and ask questions, sometimes using the person’s name within the question itself. To assume that I, or any other person in the room, do not deserve a formal introduction where names are confirmed makes an ass out of u and me.
*Some names have been changed